4 Steps to Making Ideas Actionable
As entrepreneurs, our minds are constantly filling with new ideas. Unfortunately for many of us, our concepts rarely make it to the execution stage. Instead, we subconsciously create excuses that stifle our progress and prevent us from fulfilling our plans. Have you ever said “I can’t share my idea, because someone might steal it or think that it’s terrible.” “They might tell me something I don’t want to hear.” “It might be a failure!” “I might feel stupid.” The list goes on and on.
If this sounds familiar, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. Fears and negative internal dialogue are real, and they happen to the best of us. What counts is rising above these mental roadblocks and finding a way to turn those ideas into reality.
The fact is that great ideas demand action. All of the best ventures begin as mere ideas, but they don't stay in the concept stage. Instead, they’re the result of calculated risk, of taking that leap -- even when it would have been easier to go with the flow. Success doesn’t come about through good ideas alone. It’s the result of action -- of having the courage to bring an idea to the surface and refine it into gold.
If you’re full of good ideas and ready to take them to the next level, here are some tips that will help you to put those plans into motion.
1. Don’t fear failure.
“A few people are afraid of good ideas,” writes best-selling author and marketer Seth Godin. “But many people are petrified of bad ideas. Ideas that make us look stupid or waste time or money or create some sort of backlash.”
The only problem with that, though, Godin says, “is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.”
Most entrepreneurs find success only after a series of bad ideas -- ones that just didn’t pan out. In order to have good ideas, you have to be willing to take a chance, and let go of the misconception that everything you do has to be an instant success. Free yourself up from the unrealistic expectations, and don’t let the fear of failure control your future. You’ll fail, sure, but you’ll also have great success. And as Godin points out, you’ll succeed a lot more than people who have no ideas at all.
2. Refine your idea.
So what if people think your idea is terrible? That's a common fear that plagues us all. But that’s a risk you’ll have to take. The fact is, they might think it's terrible, and that’s ok. Chances are, it is terrible, at least in its initial, rough draft stages. The first thing that pops into your head is generally not the idea you’ll end up pursuing in the end.
In order to find success, you have to be flexible, and you have to be willing to pivot from your original concept. Don’t cling so tightly to your first draft that you lose focus on the bigger picture -- creating a viable plan, one that actually works. Talking to someone will help you get your idea out there, allowing it to be scrutinized and picked apart. Putting your idea out there allows you to refine it into something that’s worth pursuing.
This isn’t to say that you should let others discourage you. There’s a difference between helpful advice and negative feedback. Seek wise counsel, and learn to tell the difference between the two. Take the feedback that’s constructive, and leave the rest. It’s all about sharpening your idea, and getting it ready for the real world.
3. Develop a plan.
The difference between ideas that stagnate and ones that get executed comes down to one thing -- taking action.
According to Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, having an action plan is key to turning ideas into reality. In his book, Belsky outlines the system that he uses to get an idea rolling.
First, start by classifying your ideas as a project. This will allow you to push them into action. Next, once you’ve established your project, you can get to work breaking your plan up into their components -- what Belsky calls action steps, backburner items and references.
Action steps, Belsky says, are tasks that can be articulated and are verbs. These are the steps that you’ll want to put into action, assign to a timeline, and do.
Backburner items are ideas that randomly come into your head. These can be written in a notepad and looked at once a week, or even once a month. At this point, you’ll be able to see which of these things are irrelevant and can be crossed out, and which ones you’ll want to add to your to-do list.
The last component is references -- notes, articles and supporting documents. These papers are overrated, so don’t waste too much time organizing them or stressing over them. Instead, consider filing them chronologically, by date. That way, if you need them, you can find them easily.
Whether you use the Action Plan method, or use another system like setting SMART goals to turn your ideas into action, just make sure you have a system that works for you -- then use it. After all, as Belsky says, “Ideas are worthless if you can’t make them happen.”
4. Don’t give up.
While being flexible is important for success, it’s also important that you don’t give up when the going gets tough. This doesn’t mean to plow full steam ahead with an idea that has no merit, but it does mean following through and ensuring that you don’t give up for the wrong reasons. The best ventures often come about only after relentless determination in spite of difficulty. Pushing through moments of doubt and roadblocks and coming out the other side is one of the greatest accomplishments you can have. Set your goals, and then reach them. You’ll be glad that you did.
Finally, and most importantly -- act fast. The clock is ticking. Don’t leave those ideas to stagnate at the back of your mind. There are few things worse than a dream that never gets to see the light of day. The longer you wait, the less likely you’ll be to make it happen. Don’t worry about mistakes or think that everything has to be perfect before you act. You’ll be waiting forever otherwise.
Instead, turn your idea into action. No matter how you do it, just get it done. Develop a plan, break it up into tasks, and put them on the calendar. Get out there, and make it happen. Will you fail? Maybe, but who’s keeping score? Like they say, you’ll miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, so get out there, make mistakes, find what works, and see what sticks. Sooner or later you’ll hit on a winner and will be taking home the gold!
Brenton Hayden is the founder and chairman of the board of Renters Warehouse. A Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Business graduate, Hayden leads a team of over 140 employees and franchises in 21 states with a portfolio of managed properties valued at just under $1 billion.